Who knew good penmanship was a requirement for joining al-Qaeda?
The US government recently released a slew of documents recovered from Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, and among them was this application to join the terrorist organization.
The application is surprising in its banality. It instructs applicants to "please write clearly and legibly," before proceeding with a series of questions that are bizarrely similar to those found in any ordinary job or college application. It reads as if it were created by management consultants — jihad by way of McKinsey-optimized hiring processes.
Applicants apparently needed to be goal-oriented: "What objectives would you would like to accomplish on your jihad path?"
And they should also be well-rounded: "Do you have any hobbies or pastimes?"
The application even manages to make suicide bombings seem like just another rung on the corporate ladder. "Do you wish to become a suicide bomber?" it asks casually, after a series of questions about travel methods. And later it asks whom the organization should contact "in case you become a martyr," providing blanks for an address and telephone number, with all the offhand ease of any workplace asking employees to provide an emergency contact.
The corporate tone of the application is jarringly amusing, but it also hints at a larger truth: a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda is a large bureaucratic organization, albeit one in the "business" of mass-murdering innocent people. Given bin Laden's brutality, it's easy to imagine him as nothing more than an ultra-violent supervillain, but the documents released today suggest he was often more like a harried CEO, focused on recruitment, strategic partnerships with other groups, and "lessons learned" following failed operations.